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Obama Administration Spells Out English Learner Students’ Rights

Forty years after the Supreme Court ruled that an English learner student had the same right to a quality education as a student who speaks English as a first language, the Obama administration issued the nation's first set of federal guidelines reminding school districts across the country of their obligation under the law.

Under the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice Wednesday, schools are expected to identify English language learners in a timely and reliable manner, offer ESL students an educationally sound language assistance program, provide qualified staff and resources and make sure ESL students have equal access to programs and activities and avoid unnecessary segregation of English learners from other students in the schools.

Other obligations include making sure students don't suffer academically from their time in an ESL program and moving the students out of the program when they are proficient in English. The guidelines also seek to evaluate ESL programs to ensure they're effective and provide parents of ESL children with school information in a language they understand.

Currently 5 million children in the U.S. are English learners, about 9 percent of all U.S. public school students.

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--Sandra Lilley